Hardline China hawk elected Australian opposition leader

AUSTRALIA’S conservatives elected hardline China hawk Peter Dutton as the country’s new opposition leader Monday, an outcome many will see as a lurch to the right for his party.

Elected unopposed, Dutton inherits a political party decimated by Australia’s May 21 election, when many long-time Liberal voters swung to independent candidates who promised action on climate change.

The new opposition leader will have to rebuild his shattered party and try to unite its fiercely divided moderate and conservative wings with climate a key sticking point.

A former police officer, Dutton made a name for himself in politics with tough talk and a penchant for headline-grabbing commentary.

As defence minister, he often likened China’s expansionist ambitions to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

“The only way you can preserve peace is to prepare for war,” he said at the time.

Earlier in his political career, the Queenslander boycotted a national apology to Aboriginal Australians forcibly separated from their families.

It was a decision he later regretted, he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2017: “I didn’t appreciate the symbolism of it and the importance to Indigenous people.”

Dutton and his allies in the Liberal party have sought to play down his right-wing past since the election.

He told radio station 2GB last week that the Liberal party has to get back to “being the broad church and making sure that we represent all Australians”.

Ousted Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who stepped down from the Liberal leadership after the election drubbing, offered his “full support” to Dutton on Monday.

Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last week praised Dutton, saying he had a better relationship with him than Morrison.

“Peter Dutton has never broken a confidence that I’ve had with him,” Albanese said. — AFP